The Young and Disenchanted

Posts Tagged ‘Jill Scott

This entry has actually been a year or so in the making… Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my relationship with religion. I was raised Catholic and although I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’m not so sure about little-boy-rapists, thieves and hypocrites. I’m not saying that any religion is perfect, but rather that one should strive for matter over content – that is, to seek spirituality rather than to constantly apply rules and labels to what some call “faith.” With that said, allow me to ruminate.

A year ago I went to a discussion on my campus about Islamophobia. While listening to the other people present (all of whom had grown up in the West), it became clear to me that the word Islamophobia can have very different connotations depending on the geographical and cultural perspective of the person talking. Most people think of the words “jihad” and “terrorist” in this post-9/11 world when the topic of Islam comes up, which makes perfect sense sitting in a brownstone on New York’s Upper West Side. However, as the conversation went on and the participants were asked to give specific examples of Islamophobia that they had witnessed, I realised that as a Nigerian my experience of this phenomenon was considerably unlike that of those who weren’t from my part of the world.

I was living in England at the time the September 11th attacks took place. I was there when the London bombings of 2005 happened. I had seen the television reports and heard the hostile comments that painted a picture of the average Muslim as a rabid fanatic hell-bent on destroying the values of democracy that make “Western civilisation” the best of all human societies. Although I could go further into the problems of this level of stereotyping, I think I may save that for another entry. The discussion actually made me think for the first time about the ways in which Islamophobia works where I come from. Because Nigeria wasn’t directly affected by 9/11, the whole “terrorist” discussion didn’t initially come up with regards to Islam (again, thanks, panty-bomber). What does seem to be a problematic issue back home is the relationship between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria is split roughly 50/50 in terms of religion between these two groups. The Muslims live predominantly in the northern part of the country, whilst Christians occupy the south. My city, Lagos, is probably the most diverse in the country because of its status as the commercial centre, and for the most part Muslims and Christians happily coexist side by side there. In other parts of the country, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The news has been filled recently with stories of “deadly religious clashes” in Plateau state, which is in the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria (the dividing line between the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.” The violence was horrific – burnt babies, men mutilated by machetes, women wounded in indescribable ways. Although this violence is labelled as religiously-motivated, other factors such as scarce resources, a lack of education and the consistent failure of the Nigerian government to build a cohesive national identity over the past 50 years are probably more central to the issue. Many people on both sides of the religion line see each other as so fundamentally alien, despite the fact that we are all citizens of the same country and the many intersections in our history, cultures and languages. I’ve heard Christians I’m close to call Muslims “uneducated,” “polygamous” and “close-minded” like these are terms exclusive to Islam. My cousin has told me stories of being called an “infidel” by her Muslim classmates as a child, classmates who just a day earlier had sat next to her and called her a friend. And when you’re struggling to scrape by as a farmer and water gets scarce, it’s probably easier to take your frustrations out on the person from a different tribe and village than on the gun-protected officials who don’t perform the tasks they were “elected” to do.

I was just reading an article by David Goodhart for a political science class in which he argues that the more diverse a society, the harder it is for it to be cohesive. This may be true, but I find it impossible to accept that Nigerians are so dissimilar from one another that they cannot possibly find a common ground. Islam and Christianity are no more radically different from one another than a Yoruba is from an Itsekiri. A friend invited me to Friday prayers on campus last week and listening to the lecture, I heard nothing that I hadn’t heard in a homily at a Sunday mass. I can’t speak for other places but in the context of my country, I think that these supposed “differences” between us – whether distinctions of religion, ethnicity or class – are being exploited and exaggerated by leaders seeking support for their kleptomaniac ways and bullshit “ideologies.” Of course, this is only politics as usual but seeing a man sob after his wife was buried in a mass grave with his children nowhere to be found, one may have to start rethinking some things. Nothing will ever change in the country if its people don’t have a sense of community with one another, regardless of whatever superficial differences we perceive among ourselves.

P.S. This Jill jawn right here is beautiful… even though it really doesn’t have much to do with this post, that line always stands out for me. Sura 31:18, by the way, reads: “And swell not thy cheek/(For pride) at men/Nor walk in insolence/Through the earth/For Allah loveth not/Any arrogant boaster.” Good advice to live by.

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At some point during my sophomore year of college, I stumbled across the book Colonize This!, a collection of essays written by women-of-colour feminists. Each essay is written from a different perspective – Indian American, Chicana, Muslim – but many share a recurring theme: how to reconcile their cultural identity with their feminist views. One essay that struck me in particular was written by a Nigerian woman. She discussed how, as a child, the role of cook/cleaner/wife-in-training defined her position as the only girl in her family, and how she rebelled against this imposed identity as a result of her exposure to feminist literature while studying in the USA. Now, I 100% sympathise with home-girl on this tip. If I had brothers and I had to watch their lazy asses play Nintendo 64 (holla!) while I washed all the motherfucking dishes, I would have become an only child by virtue of the cutlass there would have been some problems. But even without brothers, it was definitely emphasised when I was growing up (slash still today) that I would have to ensure that my domestic skills were up to par in order for me to “make a good wife.” I used to resent this pressure and told anyone who would listen (all three of them) that I would make my husband cook when I was married. Now that I am older and wiser I see that the words of my youth were unduly rash. Why? Well, for one thing, I’ve learned how to cook. And I LOVE it. Seriously: cooking is one of the most fabulous, sexy, empowering activities that I engage in on a regular basis. I think Nigella Lawson was the catalyst for the unleashing of my inner domestic goddess: I once analysed her cookbook for an English class and fell in love somewhere between Coca-Cola Ham and Deep Fried Mars Bars (which, despite sounding absolutely revolting, hold a strange power of fascination over me). Plus, she’s a total hottie. Besides the point: I have now embraced the wonders of domestication – something I thought would be accepted with open arms and empty stomachs by all. But apparently not.

A recent offer to make a sick male friend some soothing ginger cola was met with the reply that he did not want to “domesticate an educated woman” by subjecting me to the indignities of the kitchen. Now, I know that this came from a place of kindness. However, my outer inner proud African woman felt somewhat affronted (inner dialogue: “What, you don’t think I can make it?? My ginger cola-making skills aren’t good enough for you??? What in the hell do you mean by this????” – P.S. I never said my inner proud African woman, despite her wonderfulness, was altogether rational). On the one hand, it was lovely to have a man not want to take advantage of my cooking skills (ahem, African men I attend college with). On the other, I’d never thought that doing something domestic would be somehow be seen as compromising my status as an educated woman. My mother, who holds two degrees, doesn’t play with her skills in the kitchen (and especially her cake – mmmmm, I hope she’s making cakes for Christmas this year so that I can grow fat and merry :)). Both her domestic nature and her intellect work together to make her the wonderful woman that she is – one doesn’t necessarily contradict the other. First of all, cooking isn’t easy – there are plenty of women who can hold their own in a philosophical debate who cannot cook for shit. Anyone who can wield a knife, whisk and chicken breast without causing grievous bodily harm to themselves or others is a real OG. Chuuuuuuch. Secondly, I’m not certain that domestication is such a bad thing. I mean, if a motherfucker can’t cook, how are you going to eat? What if you’re chilling in a warzone in East Africa with your mercenary army, AK-47 in hand, no Chinese takeout spot in sight and just some goats at hand? (I’ve thought this out a little too well…) I mean, don’t get it twisted – this applies to women and men. Even though I will cook for my future husband, he had damn well take some classes at the Culinary Institute and be prepared to get busy with the Magic Mixer. Motherfucker, what if I come home late from work?? What are you gonna do, stare at the cooker in hope? Pause. I’m not with it.

I’m also not sure how I feel about the idea of domestication being an imposable concept. I think that there is plenty of power in being able to cook and clean: just imagine if your mother decided to not cook any more. My mother did something like this once. It was not a good look. Being a position of serving others does not necessarily equate to being subservient, I’m slowly realising. Not only is it an expression of love, like my girl Bimala says, it’s also a way of showing strength. Take it from someone who is making a regular gig of cooking dinner for 10 people just because – that shit takes MIGHT.

All I’m saying is: I don’t believe that my strong African womanhood is depleted by my puff-puff making skills (shout out to the Burundi meatballs) – rather, I believe they enhance it in all of its intellectual, political and slightly crazy glory.

Let me know how you feel in the comments.

P.S. Went back to my girl Jilly from Philly for the title – LOVES this song.

Before I came to college, I had a game plan for the next 12 years of my life: I would move to New York, major in Economics, become the hottest and wealthiest stockbroker/investment banker/scam artist under the age of 30, retire with a billi in the bank to do pretty much whatever the fuck I wanted. It was all perfect until I stumbled across the fly in the ointment: I can’t add. And I hate maths with an unbridled passion. And all my bloody Econ professors wanted to do was make me work through abstract-ass formulae and bitch about how because they failed as investment bankers, all of their students would too, and inevitably wind up being equally disgruntled teaching bored undergrads with no tenure in sight (yes, I’m talking to you Professor Arluck). Long story short, I discovered that what I preferred doing was talking about literature (one of my friends told me while we were studying for a exam that she’d never seen anyone get so excited about Crime and Punishment, a pretty depressing ass book), and I preferred to read rather than struggle through problem sets. So now, I’m a hippy happy English major, and I love it.

 What I don’t love so much is the fact that my friends who are either engineers or Econ majors (i.e. all except two) make fun of me for deciding to study literature. Gems I’ve heard from them include:

 “I can do everything you can do better, but you can’t do anything I can – like calibrate the effectiveness of a motorised input/output widget prototype to within 0.0003 degrees of accuracy from a spaceship orbiting Neptune.”

(I usually reply to that, “I’m pretty certain nothing you said was in English anyway, so you just disproved your own point by opening your mouth”)

 “What kind of a job do you expect to get with that exactly? I’m guessing nothing that actually pays.”

(I’ve given up trying to dignify that with a response)

 “Um, look down at your hand. What colour is your skin again?”

(I usually respond to that with a backhand slap with said hand)

 What really pains me about these fucking retards my dear friends expressing such sentiments about what I have chosen to study is that I’m not derisive of the fact they are engineers, no matter how earth-shatteringly boring I know everything that they study is.

 Also, this may seem outdated and idealistic, but I believe that you should study what you love at college. You know, the kind of shit that makes you actually want to go to class at 9am in your pyjamas (although, to be fair, the only thing that makes me want to do this is the guarantee of free food). Unless you have your mind set on a particular career path that requires highly specific skills, it really doesn’t matter what you study. In the field I want to go into – publishing – experience, enthusiasm and contacts are far more useful to employers than the ability to programme a T-81 calculator.

 No, I can’t do the calibrating-whatchamacallit, but I know that I can write a more insightful paper than you can without even trying, in less time, and actually care about it. I may be the only person that means something to, but I don’t give a shit. Ain’t nobody care about what you do in the basement of the engineering building at 10pm anyway except for your webcam friend. Yes, I know about that Tina from Texas. Don’t deny it.

 And yes, English majors can find well-paying jobs. Not all of us want to go into finance – broadcasters, actors, journalists and professors all make good money while doing what they love. I’d take a tenth of the money a hedge fund manager makes for twenty times the peace of mind and a significantly smaller risk of getting caught running a $50 billion scam.

Side note: why the fuck do engineers go to engineering school and torture themselves with painfully dull classes if they want to be bankers to begin with? Being able to build a robot does not give you any kind of advantage on Wall Street, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise.

 Furthermore, engineers aren’t the only ones who contribute something worthwhile to society. I’ve had this fight with a couple of friends who laughingly tell me that what I want to do with my life won’t change anything in people’s lives. If that is so, why are authors like Tolstoy, Woolf and Shakespeare still admired today? Yes, writers don’t build computers or highways, but they create works that make people think in new ways, that build bridges between different cultures so that a 21st century African girl like me can empathise with the pain of a 19th century Russian noblewoman torn between duty to family and her desire for happiness (Anna Karenina, one of my favourite novels of all time). And in a world filled with hatred and a distinct lack of understanding of what makes us similar and what we share as human beings, I can’t think of anything more beautiful. *cue “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson*

 I’m not saying that all English or liberal arts majors are noble people destined to be writers or teachers who “change the world.” Nor am I saying that engineers are all money-grubbing egotistical robotic beings. I actually only have one friend that is a fellow English major – most of the others I’ve met are obnoxious pseudo-intellectuals who dress in an affected British professorial manner that gets on my tits. I am saying this though: both engineers and liberal arts majors contribute in different but equal ways to the betterment of society, and I’m going to need all of my engineers out there to accept that and move on. No pomposity in the ’09, it’s not what’s hot on the streets.

 Speak on it.

 P.S. Title’s courtesy of Jilly from Philly – although I don’t love her 3rd album as much as the first two, “Hate on Me” is a hot track.